Chicago Casino Supported by Former Illinois Governor Despite Opposition While in Office

Posted on: August 25, 2018, 08:00h. 

Last updated on: August 25, 2018, 06:35h.

When Jim Edgar served as the governor of Illinois from 1991-1999, he was known for his opposition to casino gambling in the state, causing one political opponent to call him a “no-no governor.” But today, he’s changed his tune, and supports efforts to put a casino in Chicago.

Jim Edgar Chicago casino
Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar says that he now supports a Chicago casino, even if he was against one while he served in office. (Image: WSIU Radio)

Edgar shared his changing feelings on the gaming industry in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday, saying that the experience of seeing gambling in the state has made him reevaluate his previous stance.

Former Governor Says ‘Times Have Changed’

“I wasn’t excited when they first did gaming in Illinois, but they have it, and it didn’t have the social problems,” the Republican former governor told the Sun-Times. “The arguments against it I think are gone and times have changed.”

That’s a far cry from the position Edgar held during his time in office, when former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley accused him of being anti-Chicago for opposing a number of proposals for the city, including land-based casinos.

But today, Edgar says that while there are still benefits and drawbacks, a casino makes sense for Chicago on balance – especially if it can help the horse racing industry, which has always been a passion for him.

“I think Chicago needs the revenue and the state could use the revenue,” he told the newspaper. “And politically, I think you’re going to have to do that for the tracks to get theirs.”

Recent Casino Proposal Criticized by City Officials

Chicago lawmakers have been pushing for casino gambling in the city for years. But when the first realistic chance at passing a measure allowing for expanding gaming in Chicago came up this spring, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others came out against it.

At issue, they said, was the fact that gambling had already become ubiquitous in many parts of Illinois, with video gaming terminals present in numerous bars and other locations throughout the state. Meanwhile, the proposed measure would have allowed for a total of six casinos in the state, along with expanded gaming at racetracks and slot machines at both Chicago-area airports.

All those gambling options might make a Chicago casino at least a little less lucrative, lawmakers said, meaning that it would be hard for the city or any operator to pay the approximately $120 million in fees to open a gaming facility there on top of the other costs of starting up a large-scale resort.

“This would be the highest gaming establishment cost in the country,” city lobbyist Victoria Watkins told state lawmakers at a hearing on Wednesday.

While Edgar hasn’t been paid as a lobbyist for the horse racing industry, he’s been an outspoken advocate for a gaming expansion bill in Illinois that could help out racetracks in the state. The former governor told the Sun-Times that he currently drives 250 miles to Indiana tracks in order to run his horses in races with better purses than tracks can offer in Illinois.

“Indiana’s got a great program, and I mean, they’re very nice over there but it’s just too bad we didn’t keep up in Illinois,” Edgar said. “Unfortunately the leadership hasn’t paid attention in the last few years to get something done.”